Who Is Shakespeare’s Most Fleshed Out Character?

Not what I meant by “well rounded”.

I wrote to someone the other day that they could pick a play, pick a character, and then see five productions of that play and learn something new about the character every time.

So today I’m thinking, are there characters for whom that isn’t true?  In other words, where did Shakespeare make it most perfectly clear how he wanted the character, leaving the least room for interpretation?  So that if you saw a production five times you’d come away thinking that they (the character, not the play) are all generally the same?

It would be easy to go for the most minor characters with the fewest lines, but that’s no fun.  I also might disagree with it.  Consider Francisco, the guard we meet during the opening scene of Hamlet and never hear from again.  What’s his story?  Having the fewest lines to work with isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the least room for interpretation.  I like to ask people whether they think Francisco saw the ghost. Wouldn’t it make sense? The ghost is walking the walls until someone gets the point and goes to get his son.  So maybe other guards saw it as well. But Marcellus and Bernardo have each other to back up the story and say, “Did you see that?”  “Yup, I saw that.”  Poor Francisco has nobody to believe him. No wonder he’s jumpy.

I suppose the Porter from Macbeth is a good example.  He’s got lots of lines to work with, but is there really that much room for interpretation?  Either he’s a jolly drunk or a grumpy one.

Can you even have a “major” character and have this discussion? Is it simply true that the more detail we’re given for a character, the more room it opens for interpretation, rather than less?



4 thoughts on “Who Is Shakespeare’s Most Fleshed Out Character?

  1. Yes, Shakespeare has characters whose participation is minimal, but I think they are usually introduced with an important special purpose.
    Take the guards in the opening scene of «Hamlet». Their names encode the name of the author of the play:
    (BA + R + N + ARDO) + (FRANCIS + CO) -> (FRANCIS BA + CO + N) + (ARDO + R).
    Ardor — the main idea of the play: the tragedy of fervor, agitation

  2. Side note:

    There’s no evidence that Francisco has seen the Ghost. The Ghost comes at the “witching hour”, if you will, at the time of Bernardo’s and Marcellus’ watch, which is the reason they can attest to seeing it. He’s “jumpy” because he stands watch alone. It’s his job to be jumpy.

    1. Yes, the appearance of the ghost occurs when Francisco is NOT on duty. There is a hypothesis that the ghost is a disguised Francisco.

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